Coronavirus outbreak | Tough to practice work-from-home: corporates

Updated: Mar 19, 2020, 07:44 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Corporate giants express concern over data security, financial year-end etc over BMC's decision to check compliance of 50 per cent attendance in offices

Some corporate offices say they have no option but to leave the option of working from home to their staff. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Some corporate offices say they have no option but to leave the option of working from home to their staff. Pic/Suresh Karkera

While private companies across the city have been asked to reduce office attendance to 50 per cent, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has decided to check compliance from Thursday. However, big corporates with their headquarters in Mumbai are facing difficulties in implementation.

The foremost concern is that of data compromise in case all employees working from home are given access to office servers, which, if hacked into, could leak sensitive information, especially in times of the markets crashing.

"Data is the most precious commodity for any company. The IT protocol is very strict for certain departments. You can access important information only through office servers. Work-from-home is not possible when the employees deal with the information that impacts the company stocks," said a senior vice-president of a multinational company. He said their plants are working fine because they are located in remote areas, where the company has ensured preventive measures and medical back-up.

Confusion over notification
The VP said his company knew of the notification issued by the state and BMC and the BMC on Tuesday. "There is no mention of a 50 per cent cap on attendance in both notifications. We checked with the BMC ward office but it didn't have any information. When we got to know of it through newspapers on Wednesday, we issued a notification to our employees that they may stay home if they have any kind of symptoms. We have left it to the employees because the authorities too have left it to us to take a call. As they are now asking for compliance, we will find ways to maintain a balance in all essential departments so that regular work goes on," he said.

mid-day contacted senior employees from two other multinationals. According to them, one of the companies worked with 80 per cent attendance and the other at 70 per cent on Tuesday. There was no acute drop in attendance on Wednesday, they said.

"There is no clarity on whether we will get paid if we stay home voluntarily. The competition in private offices is fierce. It's like tribal wars. We need to be in touch with our leaders or mentors to stay relevant. We must show we work. And there are some who must go to the office because of technical reasons," said a mid-level manager of a hygiene and personal care giant.

Financial year-end struggle
The 15-day window for work-from-home is very crucial for companies given that the financial year ends on March 31 and the activity preceding the deadline involves closing yearly accounts, finalising the tax liabilities and paying taxes. It also entails visiting consultants and government offices for clarity and finalising plans for the next fiscal year. It's also the time when employees are asked to follow up to recover pending dues and bills.

"People burn the midnight oil during this time every year. A series of meetings happen at odd hours. It's a pressure cooker situation which only teamwork can deal with," said a senior finance officer, who must go to the office during the viral outbreak because he holds access to important data and leads a team. He said virtual meetings hardly help when the entire team needs to work together, sitting across the table. "Times are hard, but we are trying to deal with it," he added.

Another employee said his seniors – right from the CMD to VPs of all departments - are attending offices.

"Some of them drive their cars to the office or ensure that the drivers take proper care. They follow social distancing without thinking much of the people who sit at a distance of two to three feet from each other in the working bays," he said.

Health min seeks CSR funds
On Tuesday, Maharashtra's public health minister Rajesh Tope met with several corporate leaders to seek CSR funds and also requested them to reduce office attendance.

A government statement said Yash Mahdik (Lupin), Manu Wadhwa (Sony Pictures), Vikram Tandon (HSBC Bank), Rajiv Mestry (Cipla), DR K J Kamat (L&T), Aditya Priyadarshn (Accenture), Anchal Khanna (SHRM), Minakshi Priyam (GlaxoSmithKline), Madhavi Lall (Deutsche Bank), Priti Chopra (Aditya Birla Group), Sarthak Ranade and Rakesh Sahani (Johnson & Johnson), Saurabha Singh (ICICI Bank), B Senthilnathan (Citi Bank), Seema Nair (Reliance Industries) and Dr Mukesh Gupta (Le'Nest) were present at the meeting.'

50%
Max attendance as mandated by BMC

BMC yet to reduce non-essential staff

THE BMC has 1 lakh employees across the city in its 24 ward offices, hospitals, fire brigade, engineer hub etc. While it looks after essential services like health, fire brigade, water supply, solid waste management, sewerage, disaster management etc, it has some departments where the staff doesn't have such duties.
"The BMC should act fast for its own employees too. While the decision has been taken to close biometric attendance on Sunday, we still haven't got a copy of the order," said an employee.

"The BMC has instructed corporates to reduce staff but it should also look at its own employees. There are many departments like education, heritage, building proposals, real estate, etc, that don't have urgent or essential work as of now, " said Ravi Raja, leader of the opposition.

"We don't have instructions to reduce employee numbers, so we haven't taken any action on it," said Milind Sawant, joint commissioner of the general administration of BMC.
In a circular on Wednesday, the BMC restricted entry in all its offices to outsiders. The process of issuing passes has been stopped until further notice. All complaints regarding essential services will be registered via telephone, or email, or written letters.

- Prajakta Kasale

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